Onions Onions

The Onion genus (Allium), which includes Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Chives, Shallots, Scallions, Ramps and others is critical to almost every cuisine in the world, except a few Hindu and Buddhist sects and the Jains who forbid the entire genus. They use asafoetida to try to close the flavor gap (asafoetida, like onions, is high in sulphur).

Onions are highly nutritious, providing important sulphur compounds, polyphenol and antioxidants. Medicinally, they provide some protection against cancer and diabetes and aid bone strength and digestion. The great pyramids of Egypt were built by local farmers, working when the Nile flooded their fields, powered by a diet of bread, beer (lots of beer) and onions.

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General and History

Large Red and White Onions While some of the 350 to 500 Allium species are found in just about all habitable regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the common onions we eat probably originated in Western Asia. It is certain they were being cultivated in the Mediterranean region, particularly Egypt, at least 5000 years ago.

The ancient world had only a few varieties of onion, but today hundreds of cultivars have been developed for specific purposes, regions, and month of maturity. As with so many fruit and vegetable varieties now grown worldwide, many important varieties were developed in California, which grows more than 25% of the U.S. onion crop. Texas is also a significant developer, particularly of sweet onions.

Specific cultivars are of little culinary interest but are absolutely critical to onion growers. For instance, onions start to bulb at a specific day length. The wrong cultivar for a latitude may never bulb or it may bulb too soon resulting in undersize onions. Classifications of culinary interest are:

  • Size:   For size information see Onions.
  • Color
    • White are preferred in Mexican cuisine and by onion processors. The flavor is simpler (cleaner) but they are pretty much interchangeable with yellow onions for cooking
    • Yellow are the standard onion found everywhere. They come in "sweet" and "storage" varieties and in many sizes.
    • Brown is a controversial classification among onion experts. For culinary purposes it's just another name for yellow.
    • Red onions are popular sliced in salads for their attractive color pattern but they may stain some cooked dishes. They are the standard cooking onion in much of India and Southeast Asia.

  • Sweet vs. Storage
    • Sweet Onions have a high water content and are lower in the sulphur compounds that make onions strong. Mildness and relatively large size make them the darling of the fast food hamburger trade, and for onion rings. See Sweet Onions below.
    • Storage Onions are your common supermarket varieties, red, white and yellow. They come in a range of sizes from grape to mellon and are drier and relatively strong compared to sweet onions. Keeping properties are much better than for sweet onions - weeks to months depending on season. See Onions below.

  • Scallion / Green Onion - [UK Spring Onion] - Scallions are onions that never produce a bulb or are harvested before they start to form a bulb. The leaves taper from white at the base to deep green over most of their length. Some varieties that would bulb in northern regions can be grown as scallions farther south. See Scallions.

  • Shape and Size
    The various colors of onion come in a range of shapes and sizes. Shape and size have no affect on strength and flavor but can be critical to culinary textures.
    • Flattened Globe onions are particularly attractive for slicing for hamburgers or for onion rings as the shape maximizes yield and uniformity.
    • Elongated onions are preferable for slicing lengthwise into wedges for stir frying and such.
Religious Prohibitions

All Alliums are forbidden to Jains, as well as some sects and classes among the Hindus and some Buddhists. In North America the Hari Krishna sect says that is because odors of the breath offend Lord Krishna, but in India it is because they are suspected of raising passion and "inspiring to lust". For this reason they are traditionally forbidden to monks and widows (the many unfair restrictions on widows in India are starting to fade). These sects and classes use Asafoetida to provide a similar sulphurous sophistication to their recipes. Perhaps asparagus should be banned too, for causing odors of the pee? After all, onions are members of the order Asparagales, the asparagus order.

Muslims are strongly discouraged from eating garlic raw, and are forbidden to pray at a mosque if they have recently done so. Muslims are allowed to eat garlic if they have cooked it long enough to deodorize it. Muhammad is on record as disliking the eating of garlic.

In Europe garlic is considered protective against vampires, werewolves and demons, and against monsters in the Philippines.


Onions   -   Allium cepa var cepa
Onions are one of the most important agricultural crops in the world, and were probably one of the very first. They are considered important medicinals for various ailments, are highly nutritious, store well, and are particularly important to the flavor of the majority of recipes in the world. They are prepared in many ways, using techniques tailored to specific recipes, but take care - screw up the onions for your dinner recipe and you might as well send out for pizza.

The National Onion Association defines a medium onion to be 5 ounces. Onions that small are hard to find in Southern California onion bins, so I, and some other cooks, prefer a 6 ounce onion, which produces 1-cup chopped small.

          Size WeightChopped

Small4 oz - 5 oz 1/2 cup

Medium     5 oz - 7 oz 1 cup

Large7 oz - 10 oz     1-1/2 cup

Yellow Onion   -   [Brown Onion, Spanish Onion (most of North America), Storage Onion]
Three Yellow Onions

This is the most common onion in North America and generally the lowest cost. They vary in size from less than 4 ounces to well over 1 pound, and in color from greenish yellow to as dark as the photo specimens, depending on variety (there's an ideal variety for every growing region) and length of storage. The largest of the photo specimens was 3-5/8 inches diameter and weighed over 11 ounces. In cooking it can be used interchangeably with white and red onions, but salads and salsas are more fussy.

Red Onion   -   [Spanish Onion (New York and New Jersey only), Purple Onion (Europe, parts)]
Red Onions, whole and cut

Popular raw in salads, these globe shaped onions have relatively thick layers and thicker dried skins. When cooked most of the color is lost, but they are the most popular onion for cooking on the east coast of India. They are preferred for growing in some regions because they're more resistant to blight than yellow or white onions.

When caramelized this onion goes quite dark and a bit sticky, but has good onion flavor. Of the photo specimens, the big one with leaves was 5-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 2 pounds 3-1/4 ounces. The regular ones were 2-7/8 inches in diameter and weighed 6-7/8 ounces.

White Onion
White Onions, various sizes These offer a slightly cleaner, simpler flavor than regular yellow onions but with the same onion bite. Mexican recipes always call for white onions which are traditional there, and for some applications the clean white color is desirable. For cooking there really isn't a noticeable difference between the two, so substitute yellow onions if you don't have white. Of the photo specimens, the big one with leaves was 4-1/2 inches diameter and weighed 2 pounds 2-1/8 ounces. The regular ones were 2-7/8 inches diameter and weighed 7 ounces.

Bermuda Onion
An extinct variety of yellow onion (RIP 1985). Spanish Onions are sometimes mistakenly called Bermuda Onions.

Spanish Onion
Properly, this is a spherical yellow onion variety midway between sweet and storage onions. With a water content higher than storage onions they aren't as durable but will last longer than sweet onions.

Unfortunately the term "Spanish Onion" has been degraded to mean regular non-sweet yellow onions in most of North America, but in New York and New Jersey it means red onions. In the UK it means a mild white onion. In Spain, onions are all Cebollas, which may be Nueva if freshly picked or Roja if red, nothing more.

"Pearl Onion"   -   [Allium cepa]
Colored Pearl Onions

These are not true Pearl Onions, which are a variety of leek, but what passes as commercial pearl onions today. They are made small by using a special variety and overcrowding in the field. These are more economical to grow because real pearl onions take two years to mature. They are easy to tell apart, as these are layered like other onions, while the real ones are a single stem base.

Scallion / Green Onion   -   [Spring Onion (UK); Allium cepa]
Untrimmed Scallions

Scallions are onions of varieties carefully chosen to not bulb before they reach harvest size. Generally, in the markets they are cut to about 13 inches long from the base of the bulb, but the photo specimens were untrimmed and were up to 34 inches long. Recipes calling for "3 scallions" are highly imprecise because scallions sold in North America vary from 1/4 inch to 7/8 inch diameter at the bulb end. Figure a standard scallion is 5/8 inch at the bulb and 13 inches long - adjust for the size you have on hand.

Chinese / Korean / Japanese Scallions   -   [Welsh Onion, Dae-Pa (Korea); Allium fistulosum]
Fresh Korean / Chinese Scallions

These are a different species and don't belong here, but this is where people will expect to find them. These scallions are the onions of China. Traditional Chinese will use a pile of these rather than a single regular onion because regular onions are considered "foreign", which in Chinese dialects is a synonym for "inferior". Regular onions may have been brought to China from India 2000 years ago, but certainly were brought there by Europeans by 1600. For more on these onions, see Welsh Onions.

Mexican Onion   -   [Summer Onion]
Fresh Mexican Onions These are very similar to scallions, but the variety is selected to bulb. They are picked when the bulbs reach about 3/4 inch diameter. The largest of the photo specimens was 7/8 inch diameter.

Sweet Onions
These are the darling of the hamburger stand. Unusually mild because of low sulphur and high water content, they are suited to be the raw onions for the mass market. Many varieties are rather large so they make hamburger size slices, and some varieties are rather flat, maximizing the number of large slices or rings from each onion.

Most North American varieties of sweet onion were developed in Texas, starting with Bermuda onion seeds from the Canary Islands. These were selected and hybridized in various ways. Some varieties cannot propagate but have to be planted from seeds specially produced by seed growers from two varieties.

Maui Onion
Bin of Maui Onions This famous variety of sweet onion is grown on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Like most American sweet onions it is of Texas origin, but is smaller than most of the mainland varieties. It hits the market early in the season so it fetches a good price, lowest cost from May to August, higher from September to April.

Attempts to grow Maui onions on the mainland are imperfectly successful. The appropriate growing climate eliminates much of the country and their unique flavor owes a lot to the red soil of the Haleakala volcano in which they're grown. Even if you live in a southern state and have a recently active volcano in your back yard, continental volcanos probably spew a mix of minerals different from mid-ocean rift volcanos, so you still won't have authentic Maui onions.

Vidalia Onion
Whole and Cut Vidalia Onions Varieties of sweet onion grown in Vidalia Georgia that have been marketed intensely and very successfully. Formerly available only in the spring, some are now stored in an oxygen free environment and released in the fall. Because of their high water content they cannot be stored for a long period.

The Vidalia Onion is actually Granex, developed in Texas. At first all Vidalias were transplants shipped from Texas, but with the development of herbicides to keep weeds down they were able to be grown from seed. These have a somewhat flattened shape. The photo specimens were typically 4.5 inches diameter, 2-7/8 inches high and weighed 16 ounces.

Texas 1015Y - [PLU #4161]
Texas 1015 Onion This sweet onion was developed in the early 1980s at Texas A&M and named for its ideal planting date. It was renamed Texas SuperSweet, but distributors insisted they didn't want Texas SuperSweets, they wanted 1015s. These are grown in Texas and normally available from April to mid June, but methods like oxygen free storage have been developed to extend availability. The photo specimen was 3-5/8 inches diameter, 3-1/4 inches high and weighed 11-3/8 ounces.

This is actually only one of a number of sweet onions grown in Texas, where onions are the leading vegetable crop, but it's the most famous.

Walla Walla
Another sweet onion, originating from the island of Corsica, grown around Walla Walla in the state of Washington. Available from mid June through mid August.

The name "Shallot" is used for several small Allium species, but here in North America generally means the Allium cepa species. To add confusion, in Australia the name may also refer to Scallions, with "eschalot" specific to the shallots described here. English speakers in Quebec, Canada also use "shallot" for Scallions.

Large and Small Shallots [Éschalote (France); Scalogno (Italy); Bawang merah kecil (Malay); Hom (Thai); Katem kror hom (Cambodia); Small onion, Kanda, Gandana, Pyaaz, Gundhun, Cheriya ulli, Chuvanna ulli, Chinna vengayam, Sambar vengayam, Praan (India); Allium cepa var. aggregatum, formerly Allium oschaninii]

Shallots have been a "gourmet" item in the U.S. and were mostly imported from France and sold at around 2004 US $6.99 / pound, but this has been changing. In California (where large quantities are now grown), produce markets have them at 2014 US $1.99 or less (though you can still pay a lot more in supermarkets and gourmet outlets). This has been brought about by the large and growing Indian and Southeast Asian populations here. Shallots are much used every day items in those regions. Shallots are very important in many cuisines, so they have their own Details and Cooking page.

Persian Shallot   -   [Moo-Seer (Persia); Allium stipitatum]
Persian Shallot Flowers

These shallots are found wild from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan, but are not found in our markets. Some are cultivated, but most are gathered wild in the mountains of Iran, sliced and dried before selling in the marketplaces. They are often used to flavor yogurt.   Photo by Abivard.boy contributed to the Public Domain.

French Grey Shallot   -   [True Shallot; Griselle (French); Allium oschaninii]
These shallots are found wild from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan. They are cultivated in France, but are not native there. Some are grown by specialty growers in North America, particularly by growers of exotic garlics, but are not likely to be found in local markets. They are small and elongated compared to regular European shallots.

Garlic   -   [Allium sativum]

Garlic is probably native to Central Asia, but has been in cultivation for well over 7000 years. It was already in common use in Egypt during the building of the pyramids. Today it is indispensable in nearly all cuisines of the Western Hemisphere, and has been carried to the New World by the Spanish, French and Portuguese. Of course, certain sects and classes in India are forbidden to use it as explained above.

There are many varieties of garlic with differing characteristics (see Note O2). Unfortunately the only garlic available in most of our markets is a single variety grown in China.

Raw garlic can cause unpleasant smelling breath and sweat when consumed. This is not a problem when garlic is cooked as it becomes mild and sweet, even if a whole lot of it is included in a recipe. Unfortunately, cooking seriously reduces its medicinal properties.

Garlic has been used as a powerful medicinal for thousands of years and over most of the Western world. It is used to treat bronchitis, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries tuberculosis, liver disorders, dysentery, flatulence, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism, diabetes, fevers, and is thought to have anti-cancer properties. Modern research indicates little effect with normal culinary consumption, so garlic extracts are suggested.

Garlic   -   Heads & Cloves
Garlic, Hardneck & Softneck Of the many varieties of garlic, there are two basic types: Hardneck (left in photo) and Softneck (right in photo). The hardneck type has large, rather separate cloves, while the softneck has tight cloves with a lot of very small ones near the center.

Softneck is grown by the Chinese and others who do bulk production because it is more durable in storage, while small growers often grow hardneck garlic because it is otherwise a more desirable product and popular with shoppers at farmer's markets.

As a garlic plant matures, it develops multiple centers and then splits into segments called "cloves", which will later sprout as separate plants. A group of cloves under a single wrapper constitutes a "head" of garlic.

When a recipe calls for a "clove of garlic" it means the large outer cloves of the head. These should be at least 1-1/4 inches long and 5/8 inch wide, weighing at least 6 to the ounce. You can use several inner cloves to make up the same weight.

Garlic cloves may begin to sprout, forming a green shoot in the center. These sprouts have a more pungent taste than the rest of the clove and many cooks recommend removing them.

Chinese Garlic
Chinese Garlic head In times past, nearly all garlic sold in North America was grown in Gilroy, California. Today, most of our markets carry only a single variety grown in vast quantity in China. While I find Gilroy garlic superior, it is difficult to find even here in California.

Chinese garlic exporters have been convicted under U.S. unfair trade laws. In response, the Chinese set up garlic companies, export huge amounts at artificially low prices, then close the company before U.S. regulators can respond. The day they close one company they reopen under another name, often in the same building. Rinse and repeat.

For these reasons, when possible (it's seasonal) I buy my garlic at Certified Farmer's Markets, where I can be sure it's locally grown, relatively fresh, complies with U.S. trade laws and doesn't contain any weird chemicals used to make it grow faster.

Thai Pickled Garlic   -   [Kratiem Dong (Thai)  |   Ka Thiem Dog (Thai - the pickling juice)]
Thai Pickled Garlic

Pickled Garlic is a much used ingredient in Thailand. Thai garlic is in smaller heads than what we see in North America, with a larger number of much smaller cloves. Typical heads are about 1-1/2 inch diameter, and they are often pickled as whole heads. These cloves (and often the pickle juice) are used in recipes and as a condiment. Typically, Garlic, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Sodium Benzoate (0.05%). It can also be easily made at home.   Details and Cooking.

Pearl Garlic   -   [Solo Garlic, Single Clove Garlic, Yunan Garlic]
Pearl Garlic Bulbs with Stalk

This is a single bulb variety of garlic which does not split into cloves. Both bulbs and stalks can be used. It originates from the Yunan provence of China and is sometimes found in the big Asian markets here in Los Angeles. The photo specimens were 14-1/2 inches long with bulbs just over 7/8 inch diameter.

Fresh Garlic
Fresh Garlic Bulbs with Stalk This is fresh garlic of a large cloving variety, purchased at a big farmer's market in Pasadena, California in early June. The largest head was 2-7/8 inch diameter.

Elephant Garlic - Not a garlic - see Leeks.

Leeks   -   [Allium ampeloprasum]
Leeks originated in southeastern Europe and/or western Asia, but it is certain they were used as food in ancient Egypt at least 4000 years ago, probably much earlier. They were carried as far as the British Isles in prehistoric times, where they are essential to the cuisine of Wales.

Common Leek   -   [Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum]
Common Leeks, trimmed

This is the leek commonly found in North America in practically every supermarket, produce market, farmer's market and produce stand. For culinary purposes a "medium leek" is cut to 13 inches long (excluding roots) and weighs about 9 ounces with a bulb about 1.6 inches diameter. Prepared for use it will weigh about 5-3/4 ounces. The photo shows a leek as marketed and as prepared for use in cooking.   Details and Cooking.

Taiwan Leek   -   [Allium ampeloprasum var. ???]
Taiwan Leeks, trimmed

These leeks are now grown in California and appear in the Asian markets here. They are much smaller than the common leek with bulbs up to 1.5 inches diameter and shafts about 0.83 inch diameter. They were cut to the same standard 13 inch length (not counting roots) used for Common Leeks sent to market. Preparation and usage is pretty much the same as for the common leek.

Elephant Garlic   -   [Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum]
Elephant Garlic Head

Elephant Garlic looks like a giant garlic head, tastes a lot like garlic, can be used in place of garlic, but it's not actually garlic - it's a leek. The flavor is milder than real garlic and some people prefer that, especially when it is included raw, such as in salads and salad dressings. Young flower heads can also be cooked as a vegetable. The photo specimen, shown with two large cloves of regular garlic in front, was 3-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 6-3/8 ounces. Some sources relate Elephant Garlic to Giant Russian Garlic, but that is not correct. Giant Russian is actually garlic.

Kurrat   -   [Allium ampeloprasum var. kurrat]
Growing Kurret Plant

This leek is very popular in the Levant and North Africa, particularly Egypt where it has been cultivated for a few thousand years. It is mainly used as greens. You can see from the photo the greens have been cut off before, and the plant is about ready for cutting again. The photo specimens are growing near Alexandria, Egypt.   Photo © AUB (American University of Beirut), permission granted for non-commercial use.

Tarah Chives   -   [Tara, Tarah (Persian); Allium ampeloprasum var. persicum]
Bunch of Tarah leaves

This is what is sold as "chives" in many Southern California produce markets. particularly those serving significant Middle Eastern communities. They are actually a leek green. They are a bit firmer and stronger in taste than Garlic Chives.

Pearl Onion   -   [Allium ampeloprasum var. sectivum]
Pickled True Pearl Onions

True pearl onions were once grown commercially, but are now mostly grown in home gardens, mainly for pickling, and are popular in northern Europe. Commercial "pearl onions" are generally regular onions made tiny by overcrowding in the field. Real pearl onions have only one layer, not multiple layers like a regular onion. They have fallen out of favor commercially because they take 2 years to form a mature bulb.   Photo © Raimond Spekking (cropped) distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia Commons, attribution required.


Several kinds of Chives There are a number of rather different members of the Onion family sold as "Chives", usually without modifiers, so it's a bit confusing. To straighten this out, and to provide an easy link from recipes, they now have their own Chives page.

Other Alliums
Most experts admit to about 750 species of alliums, but some say more, and some say less. Aside from the few of wide culinary use (listed above), there are others of lesser or regional use.

Chinese Onion   -   [Vietnamese leek, Chinese Scallion, Japanese Scallion; Cu Kieu (Viet); rakkyo (Japan); Jiaotou, Xie (China); Allium chinense ]
Pickled Vietnamese Leeks

This plant is found wild and cultivated throughout East and Southeast Asia, including Japan, Mongolia and eastern Russia. It is now also cultivated to some extent in Cuba, California and Hawaii. While both greens (tubular, like scallions) and bulbs are usable fresh, the bulbs are most noted for being pickled (as in the photo). These pickles are particularly popular in Vietnam and Japan, especially to accompany spicy curries (yes, Japanese curry, adopted from the British Navy during the Meiji period). The photo specimens were purchased from a large Asian market in Los Angeles (San Gabriel, actually) where they are sold from a bulk tub, but are also available in jars. They are a very enjoyable mild pickle.

Ramps   -   [Wild Leek, Ail des bois (French), Allium tricoccum]
Growing Ramps Plants

Ramps are native to the Appalachian mountain chain from South Carolina north into Canada. They are particularly popular in West Virginia and Quebec, Canada. Both the scallion like bulbs and the leaves are eaten and they are described as being like a combination of onion and garlic. Very seasona1, they are available only from late winter through early spring.   Photo © i0127 .

While there are ramp festivals in Virginia and West Virginia and restaurants there serve them in season, in most of the country they are available only through gourmet outlets at absurd prices. Commercial production is experimental and seems to work only in a forest setting.

Protective laws are in place in Quebec where ramps cannot be sold or handled commercially, but poachers sneak them across the border into Ontario to sell to restaurants.

Ransons   -   [Buckrams, Wild garlic, Broad-leaved garlic, Wood garlic, Bear leek, Bear's garlic; Allium ursinum ]
Flowering Ransons Plants

This plant, related to Chives, is widely distributed across Europe, including the British Isles. It is usually gathered in the wild, but every year there are cases of poisoning from mistaking Lily of the Valley, Autumn Crocus or Arum Lily for Ransons. At early stages of growth these may resemble Ransons. The bulbs and flowers are edible, but it is mainly the leaves that are used, in salads, as an herb or as a cooked vegetable and in soups. In Russia, flower stems are preserved in salt and eaten as a salad. Leaves are used as a wrapper when making some versions of Cornish Yarg cheese. The leaves are used to make pesto in regions deficient in basil.   Photo by Sony Mavica distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Welsh Onion   -   [Chinese / Korean Scallion; Japanese Bunching Onion; Dae-Pa (Korea); Negi (Japan); Escallion (Jamaica); Allium fistulosum]
Fresh Welsh Onions

This onion is native to Siberia or northern China. The name does not indicate origin, or even popularity, in Wales. It comes from the Old German "welsche", meaning foreign, having come from the far northeast. These have hollow leaves like common onions (A. Cepa) but also have large hollow scapes (flower stalks) and never form a bulb. They can withstand frost, but not a hard freeze.

In the West are used mainly as Scallions, but in much of China they are the main cooking onion instead of regular onions, because those are considered "foreign", which, in Chinese dialects is a synonym for "inferior". The photo specimens were purchased from a Korean market in Los Angeles. The longest was 24 inches (not counting roots) and just over 1 inch diameter at the white end.

Egyptian Onion   -   [Tree Onions, Topsetting Onions, Walking Onions; Allium x proliferum]
Bulblets of Tree Onion

This onion has been genetically identified as being a cross between Common Onion (A. cepa) and the Welsh Onion (A. fistulosum). The common English name, Egyptian Onion, is a complete misnomer, as these have never been popular in Egypt. They are now thought to have been brought from India by Romani people. The bulblets range in size from less than 1/4 inch to about 1-1/8 inch diameter. They leaf and grow at the top of the scape (flower stalk) until it falls down, after which they root where they fell. The larger bulblets are often pickled, while the smaller are used in soups and the like.   Photo by H. Zell distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Prairie Onion   -   [Wild Onion, Wild Garlic, Drummond's Onion; Allium drummondii]
Flowering Prairie Onion

This onion is native to North America from the plains of South Texas west into California. It continues to be gathered and use as food by American Indians throughout that region, usually as an addition to meat dishes, but in California often as a main dish. It contains a significant amount of inulin, an indigestible fart producing sugar, so it is usually given a long cooking time to break the inulin down into simpler sugars. This plant can be quite invasive in more fertile regions.   Photo by Abbamouse (cropped) distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Canadian Onion   -   [Wild Onion, Wild Garlic, Meadow Garlic, Canadian Garlic; Allium canadense]
Flowers Canadian Onion

This onion is native to North America from New Brunswick, Canada, to Florida and west to Montana and eastern Texas. It has been naturalized in Cuba where it is now grown in home gardens for culinary use. The bulbs are small and covered by a tough fibrous skin, but the flavor is very onion-like. It was formerly gathered by American Indians and early European settlers for use in cooking, but it's safety has been questioned. It can cause gastric problems in small children, reduces iodine takeup by the thyroid gland and poisons livestock, sometimes fatally.   Photo by George F Mayfield (cropped) distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Three Cornered Leek   -   [Wild garlic; Allium triquetrum]
Flowering Three Cornered Leeks

This plant is native to southwest Europe, northwestern Africa and the Island of Madeira and the Canary Islands. It has been introduced to British Isles, New Zealand, Turkey, Australia, California, Oregon, and South America. It is easily identified by its shallow "V" shaped leaves and its scapes (flower stalks) which are concavely triangular. All parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked, tasting similar to leeks or scallions. The leaves are used to make pesto in regions deficient in basil.   Photo by Meneerke Bloem distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Few Flowered Leek   -   [Allium paradoxum]
Flowering Few Flowered Leeks

This plant is native to the mountains of the Caucasus and Iran. It is considered highly invasive, forming mats that smother native plants, so it is illegal to plant it in the wild in some regions. It is easily identified by its long flat leaves and its scapes (flower stalks) which are triangular. It's flower heads usually are almost all bulblets, often with just one white flower. All parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked, tasting similar to leeks or scallions. The leaves are used to make pesto in regions deficient in basil.   Photo by Botaurus contributed to the Public Domain" .

Nodding Onion   -   [Lady's Leek; Allium triquetrum]
Flowering Nodding Onion Plants

This plant is native to much of North America, including Canada, from Ontario west through British Columbia. In the United States it is found in the Appalachian Mountains, the Great Lakes Region, the Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys, the Ozarks and the Rocky and Cascade Mountains from Mexico to Washington, but not in California. It is easily identified by its grass-like leaves and its scapes (flower stalks) which bend downwards at the flower heads. This plant does not produce bulblets in the flower heads. All parts of the plant are edible, and are usually cooked as ingredients due to their strong onion flavor.   Photo by Fritzflohrreynolds distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Health & Nutrition

General:   The commonly eaten Alliums are safe to eat in any quantity you are likely to consume. They are low in sodium, free from fats and cholesterol and contain a pretty good mix if vitamins and minerals, particularly sulphur, which is deficient in many people's diets.

Preparing:   The outer layers of Onions and Shallots are higher in some important nutrients, so you should peel off the minimum amount of layers. If you are going to fry the onions until browned, you may have to peel one layer deeper to get even browning. For complete details of see our Working with Onions page.

Tears:   When damaged, the cells of Onions, Shallots and some other Alliums release enzymes which combine with sulphur compounds to produce propanethiol S-oxide vapors. When these reach the moisture in your eyes they form Sulphuric Acid, which stings, causing increase in tear production to wash it away. The intensity of this effect depends on how much sulphur was in the ground the plants were grown in, and how badly the bulb is damaged. It helps if the bulbs are refrigerated before cutting. To minimize damage use a very thin, razor sharp knife like a Santoku.

Medicinal:   Onions, garlic and leeks have played an important role in traditional medicine and healing since before the dawn of history. Both internal and topical applications have been common. Today they are being studied for their anti-cancer properties, in hopes varieties can be developed particularly high in these cancer fighting elements.

Other characteristics being studied are the ability of onions to lower blood pressure, control blood clotting, reduce blood cholesterol and improve the ratio of "good" to "bad" cholesterol. Anti-bacterial characteristics are also gaining attention, particularly for fighting drug resistant bacteria.

Diabetes & Sugars:   Onions contain a modest amount of sugars and have a very low glycemic index. Sugar content is 9.93 grams per cup (210 grams). This consists of 30% Fructose, 47% Glucose, 23% Sucrose.

Vampires:   Garlic is reputed to repel vampires, a characteristic important to the health of any person set upon by them. This has not been confirmed by controlled scientific studies as no such studies have been conducted due to insufficient numbers of vampires volunteering to participate. Garlic is also said to be effective against Demons and Werewolves.

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